Tag Archives: US Army

Welcome to America . . . just bring your gas mask

You’re a refugee fleeing repression in a Latin American country. You trek to the southern border of the Land of Opportunity. You and your kids, maybe with your elderly parents, are greeted by U.S. Army soldiers and Marines.

Then you get gassed. Those troops deployed by the commander in chief are under orders to prevent everyone from entering the United States. One way to keep you out is to gas you.

This is no way, none at all, to manage the border. It is no way to prevent illegal immigration. The refugees who are seeking safe harbor from the tyrants who run their countries back “home” deserve something far better, more kind than what they’re receiving.

I have tasted tear gas. It got my snootful twice while training at Fort Lewis, Wash., in the summer and fall of 1968 in the U.S. Army. It really and truly sucks, man. The second douse came while I was low-crawling under barbed wire. Our sergeants popped a nausea agent. Yep . . . I puked!

This is how we intend to “greet” those who seek protection from those who would do them harm. Wow! I never would have thought I would see this happening in our country.

Appalling!

Army assessment dampens Trump view of ‘caravan’

I’m sure you remember that when he was campaigning for president in 2016, Donald Trump declared he knows “more about ISIS than the generals, believe me.”

It has turned out that he doesn’t. Nor does he know more about that so-called “caravan” of tough guys, criminals and “Middle Easterners” heading toward our southern border than the generals.

Trump has tried to inject fear and panic among Americans in advance of next Tuesday’s midterm election. He has called that “caravan” an invasion force intent on breaching our southern border. So he’s dispatched as many as 15,000 troops to the border to take charge of matters, to secure it against the invading hordes.

The U.S. Army, though, assesses it a bit differently. It said the refugees fleeing northward remain a good distance away and projects that only a small percentage of the “caravan” will reach our border. The Army assessment presumes that there will be about five U.S. troops for every refugee who manages to make it to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Washington Post says it cannot verify the Army assessment independently, but reports that military officials the newspaper contacted are vouching for its veracity.

Trump peddles fear like few other modern-day politicians. I’ll concede that he’s pretty good at it. He has that base of supporters who continue to believe the lies that fly out of the president’s mouth. That’s all that matters to him. He talks to them only. The rest of us? Forget about it!

As the Post reports: Seizing on immigration as his main campaign theme ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections, Trump has depicted the caravans — at least four have formed, though they remain hundreds of miles away — as a grave danger to U.S. national security, claiming they are composed of “unknown Middle Easterners,” hardened criminals and “very tough fighters.” He also insists the number of migrants heading north is much larger than estimates put forward by U.S. and Mexican government officials.

The military assessment does not support any of those claims.

And we are to believe the opinion of a man — the president — who admits he doesn’t read briefing papers or doesn’t feel the need to absorb national security briefings?

I don’t think so.

1968: The year that changed many lives

If you live long enough you get to go through many seminal moments in your life. I’ve been walking on this Earth for 68-plus years and I have had my share of them.

My marriage to a girl who appeared before me like a vision. The birth of my children. The birth of my granddaughter. Flying over an erupting volcano.

But 1968 produced another one, too, just as it did for many of us in my generation. That was the year I was inducted into the U.S. Army. It occurred 50 years to this day.

I actually can remember much of that day in some detail. It’s one of those events that burns into your memory.

Mom took me to the Army entrance station in downtown Portland, Ore. She bid me so long. I went in, went through a routine physical exam, then took the oath. I made the step forward and was informed by the swearing-in sergeant that we “all had been inducted into the Army.” I would learn later that the Marine Corps also was accepting conscripts; hey, we were at war.

We piled onto buses and rode off in the dark toward Fort Lewis, Wash., where I would spend the next nine weeks learning how to be a soldier.

It was a two-year hitch. I finished basic training in October, then flew directly to Richmond, Va., and then rode a bus to Fort Eustis, Va., where I would train for another 16 weeks learning how to keep OV-1 Mohawk airplanes in the air.

Then it was off to Vietnam and back to Fort Lewis to finish my hitch.

Why mention this? Well, I feel at times in today’s era that not enough young Americans get a chance to experience these kinds life-changing events. I came out of that experience a better person, more grounded and certainly more committed to getting an education.

I won’t advocate for a return to mandatory military conscription. Perhaps some form of public service, though, might do a lot of young folks good. The government created the Peace Corps in 1961 to provide young Americans with a chance to make a positive impact around the world. The Peace Corps is still in existence, but one hardly ever hears of it, unless some young person gets into some form of trouble.

I feel fortunate to have come of age when I did. I feel blessed as well that I survived that most-turbulent time in our nation’s history.

None of us can rewrite our past any more than we can rewrite history. Suffice to say that 1968 was one hell of a year for many Americans. We endured violence in the streets, the murders of two iconic political/religious/civil rights icons and a war that tore at our national soul.

We survived and we are better for having lived through it.

Military taking a big bite out of its own hand

Donald Trump must really mean it when he implies that America should become an immigrant-unfriendly place.

The New York Times has published a story that tells of how the U.S. Army is ordering an increasing number of legal immigrants out of the military service. Why? According to one of them — an immigrant from China, with a business degree, a wife and a small child — they are deemed “unsuitable.”

As the Times noted in its story, the Army is booting out an increasing number of immigrants even though it cannot meet its recruitment goals for 2018.

The program, adopted during the Bush 43 administration, is designed to allow legal immigrants a fast track to citizenship. The Trump administration seems to see little value in the program.

What a disgraceful display of un-American treatment of men and women who come here to this country on their volition and want to serve in our military.

The irony is so rich you can taste it, given that the commander in chief sought to avoid military service during the Vietnam War by obtaining a series of student and medical deferments.

Take a look at the NY Times story here.

I am reminded of a time when this country granted automatic citizenship to immigrants who enlisted in the armed forces. How do I know that? My own grandfather, George Filipu, became an instantaneous American by enlisting in the Army in 1918. He wanted to fight in World War I. But then the war ended in November of that year. He didn’t get into the fight — but he retained his U.S. citizenship.

That’s what service and commitment to our country is all about.

The young man who might now be deported to China — after swearing an oath to “protect and defend the U.S. Constitution — now might be punished in his home country simply by enlisting in a foreign military organization.

That’s how you “put America first”? I don’t think so.

The pilot deserved higher honor than he got

Flash back 50 years ago and you find yourself recalling one of the most tumultuous years in U.S. history: 1968.

We’ll soon mark a couple of assassinations that tore the nation’s heart apart. We’ve already noted the 50 years since a one-time enemy launched an offensive against our troops in Vietnam, changing the nation’s fundamental attitude about whether the war could be won on the battlefield. At the end of this year we will mark a mission to the moon that gave us a glimmer of hope after all that heartache.

Fifty years ago today, a U.S. Army pilot — the late Hugh Thompson — landed his helicopter at My Lai, South Vietnam, and told fellow soldiers that he would kill them all if they continued to massacre innocent men, women and children. His crew chief and door gunner were standing by to carry out the order — if Thompson were to deliver it. The soldiers backed off and spared the nation from even more tragedy.

The My Lai massacre became one of the flashpoints of the Vietnam War. Army Lt. William Calley, who commanded the men who took part in the massacre, stood trial and served prison time for his role in that horrific event.

What has gone largely unremembered is the heroism that Thompson exhibited when he confronted the men who had gunned down hundreds of Vietnamese victims.

As Thompson told the Los Angeles Times before his death in 2006: “I thank God to this day that everybody did stay cool and nobody opened up. … It was time to stop it, and I figured, at that point, that was the only way the madness, or whatever you want to call it, could be stopped.”

The Army sought to hide the massacre. It sought to keep it out of public view. Then the famed journalist Seymour Hersh uncovered it and reported it worldwide.

Thompson eventually received the Soldier’s Medal for “heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy.”

He also deserved a nation’s thanks and gratitude for stopping evil when he spotted it from on high.

Today’s students channeling their grandparents

I am hearing some talk in recent days about the nature of the student-led protests that are developing across the nation in reaction to the spasm of gun violence in our public schools.

It has something to do with an earlier era of protest that got enough people’s attention to hasten the end of a costly and divisive war.

Many observers equate the post-Parkland, Fla., school massacre response to what transpired in the 1960s and early 1970s, when thousands of Americans protested the Vietnam War.

They hope this protest has the staying power of that earlier time, when Grandma and Grandpa were much younger and took on the power structure that continued sending young Americans to die on battlefields halfway around the world.

Young Americans are dying today, too. The difference is that they are dying in classrooms here at home.

I wasn’t among the young folks who marched in the street, carrying a sign, chanting slogans … that kind of thing. I wasn’t wired that way. Indeed, I took part for a time in that war, heading off to Vietnam in the spring of 1969 to serve in the Army.

Upon my return and later my separation from the Army in the summer of 1970, I was filled with plenty of doubt about that war and whether its mission was worth continuing. The Vietnam War did awaken my political awareness, although I put it to use in ways that didn’t require me to stand on street corners yelling my displeasure at U.S. foreign policy.

The Parkland slaughter does seem to have awakened a new generation as well. Students plan to “March For Our Lives” on March 24. In Amarillo — a community not really known as a political hotbed for protest — that event will begin at Ellwood Park, where students and their elders will gather to march to the Potter County Courthouse.

Should this protest shred the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right of Americans to “keep and bear arms”? No. Not in the least. Surely there must be some legislative remedy that preserves the amendment, but which makes it more difficult for nut cases to obtain firearms.

The young people who are on the “front lines” of this struggle are seeking to have their voices heard. Decades ago, another generation of young people were thrust onto the front lines to fight another war. Their voices were heard eventually. They brought change then. Their descendants can bring it once more.

Happy Trails, Part 81

SHERMAN, Texas — My wife and I have been recreational vehicle owners for about three years.

We have joked in the past while we have traveled that we have arrived “home” when we return to where our RV has been parked.

Then came the realization sometime today. We spent some time visiting with our granddaughter and her parents. Then we called it a day and returned home.

Except this time it’s no throw-away line, or good-natured joke.

We understand that as of three days ago, we no longer own a home attached to the ground.

Our former home is now in someone’s hands. I was half-expecting to feel just a tad lost. It hasn’t happened. I don’t expect it to happen. If it does, then my hope is that it’s just a feeling that passes by quickly. I’ve been known to feel such emotional tugs; they come and they go.

As of this moment, though, we are feeling strangely liberated. Neither of us has gone through this kind of change of life. We’ve always been tethered to property. I spent a couple of years in the Army and moved around a little bit: Fort Lewis, Wash., to Fort Eustis, Va., to Vietnam, back to Fort Lewis — and then home. Uncle Sam always looked over my shoulder to ensure that I would get to my next place on time.

This is different. We’re on our own. We have no deadlines. No timetable.

We have instead the open road.

Pretty damn cool.

As long as we’re talking about guns …

I understand people’s fascination with firearms. I get that many Americans get a form of “enjoyment” out of shooting them.

What I do not get — nor will I ever understand, more than likely — is the fascination with assault rifles, killing machines that shoot large amounts of ordnance in very little time.

I now will explain why I get the fascination part.

I’ll begin by boasting — just a little — that I have a certain proficiency with firearms. I discovered my rifle proficiency while serving in the U.S. Army. I completed my basic training at Fort Lewis, Wash., in 1968 while toting an M-14 semi-automatic rifle. It used a 20-round magazine full of 7.62-mm rounds and I earned a “sharpshooter” rating with the rifle.

I flew from Fort Lewis to Fort Eustis, Va., for my AIT (advanced individual training). Even though I trained as an OV-1 Mohawk aircraft mechanic, we were issued M-16 rifles, on which we had to qualify. The M-16 was much lighter than the M-14, but it, too, used a 20-round magazine, firing a much smaller caliber round: a .223, barely bigger than the .22-caliber bullet my rifle at home shot. The M-16 is a deadly weapon of war, however. I qualified well on that weapon, too.

I was issued an M-16 when I reported for duty in Vietnam in the spring of 1969 and, thank goodness, I never had to fire it in combat.

But my exposure to those weapons never brought discomfort to me. I felt quite comfortable firing them during training exercises.

Fast-forward to 2003. I was working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas. I received an invitation to take part in the Amarillo Police Department Citizens Academy. Its aim is to acquaint civilians to myriad aspects of police work. It’s an educational tool that APD uses to give citizens — such as yours truly — a better understanding of the complexities associated with law enforcement.

One aspect of the academy was to spend some time at the firing range. We got to shoot a .38-caliber revolver — a six-shooter; a 9-mm Glock pistol; and an AR-15 rifle (yes, the weapon used in the Parkland, Fla., school massacre on Valentine’s Day).

I am not as familiar with handguns as I am with rifles. But I made a rather startling discovery about myself that day: I’m a pretty good shot with a handgun. I was able to shoot the six-gun well; I was able to handle the more powerful Glock with proficiency; and the AR-15 felt much like the M-16 I was issued in Vietnam.

I came away from the APD Citizens Academy shooting range understanding fully the fascination with shooting weapons at targets.

However, and this interesting, as well, as much “fun” as I had shooting those weapons at the APD range, I didn’t get bitten by the shooting “bug.” I haven’t fired a handgun since that day 15 years ago.

As we continue this national discussion about guns, though, I remain opposed to the idea of allowing the relatively easy purchase of weapons such as the AR-15 that can be used to kill lots of people in no time at all.

They, in effect, are weapons of war, where they and other such weaponry do what they are designed to do. On the streets — or in school classrooms, for crying out loud! — they have no place.

Bergdahl gets off too lightly

Count me as one American who believes Bowe Bergdahl deserves to serve time in prison.

I had given the one-time U.S. Army Ranger the benefit of the doubt when he was returned to U.S. custody after being held captive by the Taliban for five years. He came home after the Obama administration negotiated for his release from the hideous conditions under which the Taliban kept him.

Then came questions about the nature of his “capture.” Did he go willingly into enemy hands?

Bergdahl admitted to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Yep, he did it all of his volition.

Today, the judge hearing the case spared Bergdahl prison time. He ordered him to receive a dishonorable discharge that, of course, will stay with him for the rest of his life.

It’s not punishment enough for what he has admitted to doing.

Bergdahl faced a potential life term in prison for the misbehavior charge. I don’t know that he actually deserved to spend his entire life behind bars. However, the former Army sergeant did put his men in danger when they went looking for him. What’s more, he deserted his unit that had been placed in harm’s way to fight the monstrous enemy force that supposed “captured” him.

I do not dismiss the terrible conditions under which Bergdahl was kept by the Taliban. However, it does not lessen the betrayal he committed against the men with whom he was serving.

I believe the judge today made a mistake in leveling such a light sentence against Bowe Bergdahl. May this deserter thing long and hard for the rest of his life about what he did.

Honoring a new ‘Greatest Generation’

I am re-reading a book I’ve owned for a couple of decades.

The great broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw penned “The Greatest Generation” to pay tribute to the men and women who saved the world from tyranny during World War II.

Brokaw’s thesis is one that I still accept, that those 16 million Americans who answered the call to fight a global war on two fronts — in Europe and the Pacific — exhibited unparalleled devotion. They served “for the duration” of the war. They finished the job and came home to start their lives.

I’m reading the book, though, with a slightly different take than I had when I picked it up the first time.

The current generation of fighting men and women is rising to the level of devotion and dedication that my father’s generation did more than 70 years ago.

Under vastly different circumstances, to be sure.

They are fighting an enemy that is every bit as cunning and resourceful as the Nazis were in Europe and the Japanese were in the Pacific. These terrorists against whom we keep sending these young Americans to fight are ruthless and dedicated to the perverted principles they are following.

Today’s generation of young American warriors is facing multiple deployments onto the battlefield in Afghanistan and other places — some of which are undisclosed. Four Army Special Forces troops died recently in Niger, bringing into the open a deployment few Americans knew was under way.

I long have saluted my father for his contribution to fighting tyranny during World War II. I am proud of what he did as a sailor who saw more than his share of combat in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.

I also want to salute other members of my family who’ve thrust themselves into harm’s way during the current war against international terror. My cousin served multiple Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have a nephew who drove an Army tank into Iraq when that war broke out in March 2003; he would return to Iraq for a second tour.

The war on terror just might be a conflict that has no end. There might not be any way for the United States to declare total victory as this country was able to do in 1945. The enemy surrendered unconditionally, giving The Greatest Generation of Americans its ticket home.

Can we achieve a similar end to the current war? I am trying to imagine how that gets done.

Meantime, the current generation keeps fighting. These young Americans have earned their status as the newest Greatest Generation.

I am proud of them beyond measure.